Archive for Saturday, January 21, 2012

Working group gives pros, cons of school consolidation options

New York School

New York School

January 21, 2012


In a kind of public school version of the television show “Survivor,” a group of more than 30 parents and teachers have been meeting for the past five months to determine which schools would be voted off the Lawrence school district’s island.

The Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group has until mid-February to make a recommendation. In this version of the game, the “tribal council” has been asked to reduce a list of six elementary schools — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — down to either three or four within two years.

Several options have been on the table for more than a month. At a meeting last week, the group emotionally debated the pros and cons of several of the proposals that will be further analyzed by the district’s demographic consultants, RSP & Associates. The consolidation group will meet again at 7 p.m. Jan. 30 at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.

Here are some of the pros and cons that group members have given for each option:

Combine Kennedy and New York at or near 15th Street and Haskell Avenue or at the Kennedy site

Pros: By combining the two schools, the students would have the benefits of a full-time nurse, full-time guidance counselor and other specialists such as music, art and physical education teachers. And a new school would provide a state-of-the-art facility on the east side of Lawrence. If the school is built near 15th Street and Haskell Avenue, it would be in a central location that would allow for many students to walk to school.

Cons: Combining Kennedy, 1605 Davis Road, and New York, 936 N.Y., would bring together students from two of the district’s poorest schools. More than 75 percent of the students would be classified as at risk. And combining the two schools could mean more students in each class, which would go against research that shows smaller class sizes are most important for at-risk students.

The opponents to the plan also point to population studies that indicate the east side of Lawrence could see a rebirth. If population projections hold true, the two schools combined would have 466 students by the year 2016. Right now, 185 students attend New York and 224 attend Kennedy.

Combine Cordley and New York

Pros: Parents said they like the socio-economic mix that comes from combining Cordley, 1837 Vt., and New York schools. The at-risk population would be at 54 percent, which would be the lowest of any other combination of schools in east Lawrence.

Right now fewer students attend New York than any other school in the district. Cordley parents suggest it would be easier to integrate New York’s 185 students into their student body of 300 than the other way around.

If Cordley is expanded it also can accept students from Broken Arrow, which is close to capacity. Also, expanding either Cordley and New York would mean not having to construct a new building, which might be cheaper.

Cons: No midpoint site has been identified to build a new school. By eliminating New York, the city would lose a school that is connected to downtown. But expanding New York could also be difficult because it has one of the smallest school sites in the district.

As for expanding Cordley, the nearly 100-year-old school has had several major additions and is in need of upgrades to become ADA compliant. Regardless of whether the school expands at New York or Cordley, students from the school that closes would have trouble walking to the one that expands.

Combine Hillcrest and Sunset Hill at the Sunset Hill site

Pros: Out of the six schools that are being considered, Hillcrest and Sunset Hill are the closest to each other. So by keeping Sunset Hill open, students from Hillcrest might still be able to walk to school. Hillcrest is at 1045 Hilltop Drive, while Sunset Hill is west of Iowa Street, at 901 Schwarz Road.

Proponents of this plan say the site at Sunset Hill has room for expansion and could be a “relief valve” for Sunflower School when it nears capacity.

They also note that while Hillcrest has a large community of students who are in the English as a second language program, those students don’t necessarily live in the surrounding neighborhoods. And those student wouldn’t necessarily have to remain in the same building to keep the program intact. About 60 percent of the students who attend Hillcrest are in the ESL program. The other 40 percent live in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Cons: Combined Sunset Hill and Hillcrest would have a population of more than 600, which is far more than the goal to keep schools in the 300-to-500 range. Right now, 214 of those students are in the ESL program.

A major question revolving around closing Hillcrest is what would happen to the ESL program. Some fear that relocating the program in its entirety would uproot existing teachers at the school that houses the program. Others have proposed that ESL students be spread out among cluster sites or return to the schools where they reside.

Close Pinckney and send students to Hillcrest or send Hillcrest students to Pinckney

Pros: By keeping Hillcrest open, the district’s model ESL program would stay intact. Hillcrest also has the size to expand and sits away from major streets, which makes it easier to drop off and pick up students. And plans that call for closing Pinckney, 810 W. Sixth St., note the school doesn’t have much room to expand and sits off a major street — Sixth Street — which makes traffic flow difficult.

Cons: Pinckney has a long history and is part of two vibrant historic neighborhoods. While Pinckney isn’t the most accessible school by car, many students walk there.

Regardless of which school closes, combining Hillcrest and Pinckney would result in a school of 585 students, which would be larger than any other school in the district at this time.


Richard Heckler 4 years ago

Voters and taxpayers are the primary stakeholders no matter what. Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be. WE stakeholders do not elect people to cut we stakeholders out the decision process. Rather we want options for which we may vote and one of those options on the ballot is retaining existing structures and converting them to "state of art" over a short period of time.

What is a state of the art school?

This description bothers me as it seems "state of the art school" is being used to sell taxpayers on a larger building that is not necessary. Around the nation I see smaller schools as the rule of thumb.

The concept of removing any school that a fair number of children can walk or bike to does not provide the community with what a community needs.

When the district is spending about $4.5 million on bus transportation it seems that cost should come down. Certainly would not be fiscally smart thinking to add students to this bus situation.

Richard Heckler 4 years ago

Voters and taxpayers are the primary stakeholders no matter what. Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be. WE stakeholders do not elect people to cut we stakeholders out the decision process. Rather we want options for which we may vote and one of those options on the ballot is retaining existing structures and converting them to "state of art" over a short period of time.

Before spending or asking for additional tax dollars to build or repair buildings USD 497 best wait until they know what exactly is transpiring in Topeka. Our buildings can be rehabilitated over a 3-4 year period on current property tax dollars which is a respectful approach.

USD 497 taxpayers need to think of nurturing our teachers which has not been adequately addressed in some years. Some kind of a pay increase method may need to be a matter for consideration rather than new buildings that which are not necessary. What matters is the level of education coming from the classroom.

Flap Doodle 4 years ago

I'd swear that I same this same post of merrill's on another thread of this award-winning website this morning. Recycling?

beaujackson 4 years ago

Let voters (taxpayers) decide ANY new building proposals.

Ockhams_Razor 4 years ago

"around the nation?" So Merrill is now an expert of what is going on nationally? har har

George_Braziller 4 years ago

Another con is that with the push to get more people living in and around downtown it doesn't make any sense to close the very school that would serve those families.

Cons: No midpoint site has been identified to build a new school. By eliminating New York, the city would lose a school that is connected to downtown. But expanding New York could also be difficult because it has one of the smallest school sites in the district.

wolfy 4 years ago

We should not be seeking to define the means before clearly articulating the desired ends. Is the goal really to build new, so-called "state of the art" school buildings? Shouldn't the goal instead be to find innovative ways to address the unique needs of our many diverse student communities using the the smartest, most cost-effective means available? Buildings should be designed for, and adapted to, the needs of communities -- not the other way around. A convincing case has not yet been made that ANY community schools should be closed.

Getaroom 4 years ago

Could not have been better said "wolfy" and my thoughts exactly on this subject from the onset of these discussions. Why do we keep trying to reinvent the wheel on this matter?

sourpuss 4 years ago

I agree with wolfy and if the distribution of children is the problem (if New York is too empty and Cordley too crowded), then why not combine the catchment for them and divide the grades? Put K-2nd at one school and 3-5 at the other. That way, the kids can stay together.

Oh, and if you can't afford a full-time nurse at a school fire an administrator and hire one (at that point you could probably afford an art teacher too!) There.

irvan moore 4 years ago

the problem with that idea is that it makes sense, something the school boards seem to be incapable of.

focusedonfitness 4 years ago

Well said, PFC. The charge that the group was given clearly is no longer relevant, if it ever was. The data speaks for itself. No schools should be closed.

spiderd 4 years ago

This article is an over simplified joke. I miss Fagan. Smooth move LJW.

GardenMomma 4 years ago

I miss him too. What happened to the First Bell articles?

KrampusLawrence 4 years ago

This article doesn't tell me much about the actual scenarios. What are they? Also, didn't a consulting firm already provide new data? I don't remember the Journal World writing anything about that.

The community needs more information and our news sources aren't providing them.

aryastark1984 4 years ago

The consulting group provided some very interesting information.

First and foremost, they project that of the schools on the consolidation list, the majority are projected to increase in size: New York, Hillcrest, Cordley, Pinckney. Hillcrest and New York are projected to grow by the largest %. School districts typically consolidate when populations are decreasing. Consolidating schools that are growing in size makes no sense.

Secondly, the consulting group highlighted the fundamental problem with closing schools: When you close a school (even a small one like Wakarusa), you negatively afffect all the surrounding schools. Before we close any more schools, we must deal with overcrowding issues at Sunflower and Broken Arrow.

Although this is actually a decent summary of these proposals, Metz gets one thing wrong. Any combination of Hillcrest and Sunset Hill means that Sunset Hill cannot serve as a relief valve for the over crowding at Sunflower and Broken Arrow. Do the math, it doesn't work.

Metz also misses two other fundamental problem with all of these scenarios: Consolidation WILL increase class sizes (again, do the math). AND, any consolidation that involves breaking up a cluster site will cost MORE money. If the goal is to save money, then breaking up cluster sites is counterproductive.

Kookamooka 4 years ago

I hope Fagan wasn't caught up in the last round of lay offs. That would be unfortunate. Maybe they just wanted different eyes and ears to recap the proposals.

ESL programs can be moved. There is nothing sacred about a building with regard to a program. Programs are people. They can be replicated anywhere. Make the ESL program at the expanded Sunset Hill "model".

And...having a high number of free or reduced lunch kids at one site means that site would be eligible for Title funding for support personnel. Not a bad thing. It means FT social workers, psychologists and ESL paraprofessionals could be on site. All good things.

spiderd 4 years ago

Yes, Fagan was laid off, the reason for no First Bell. He was one of the best around here, not to mention a 20 year employee I think. Grouping the poor kids doesn't increase Title funding one dime by the way.

George_Braziller 4 years ago

Fagan? The best?

Maybe he got a job with one of the supermarket tabloids. The sensationalism required fits his reporting style.

He was awful.

aryastark1984 4 years ago

Sure, you CAN move a cluster site. But why? What is your goal? Do you understand what is involved? ESL education is not a "class" that kids go to during the day. It isn't like the old "special ed" model where you send all the kids to one class. ESL kids are in every class at every grade level. Thus, ESL education means that ALL classroom teachers need to be trained to work with kids for whom English is a second language. Functionally, this means that all the teachers in a new site would need to get additional training and certification OR you would have to REPLACE all the teachers in the new school with teachers with experience in ESL education. This is the OPPOSITE of cost effective. This would be MORE expensive AND would negatively affect the kids in question.

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